The Greenstone Door
Chapter III I Find a Haven
Chapter III I Find a Haven
They buried him that night, digging his grave with spades taken from the war-spoil of Te Waharoa, and laying him in the cool, dry earth of that windy hill-top. His bones have long since been transferred to the other end of the earth, where, in the tomb of his ancestors, beside his girl wife——the mother I never knew—they moulder to the English dust from which they sprang; but it is on the hill-top I love to think of him, resting after a brief and stormy life, full of wounds and honour, high up under the great arch of the sky. Sheep feed peacefully now on the wind-bitten heights, and only the step of an occasional shepherd breaks the solitude of the Tekuma pa. White men and brown alike are gone. But for me it is peopled with the ghosts of that tragic night. Its blood-drenched terraces still cry to heaven; its burning whares still redden the sky, and in the midst of it—as though it were a monument raised in his honour—for me, the body of my father lies there still.
1 Kumara = the sweet potato.
He was seated on a box in the centre of the whare, tying together the sheaves of letters and papers he had collected from the floor, humming softly to himself the while, a habit the meaning of which I was to know well by and by. All I said on this occasion, however, was "Dadda!"
He gave a great start, and his blue eyes fell on my small figure sitting up, half buried in the rugs and pillows.
"Dadda, eh?" he said musingly, as though he were confronted with a problem. A moment later his expression changed, and, putting his hand in his pocket, he drew out a biscuit and held it out to me.
It must have been an unusual number of hours since I had partaken of any food, and I scrambled eagerly from my perch, rolled to the floor, picked myself up, and toddled to his knees to receive the biscuit.
From that moment what memories I have of my father become indissolubly mingled with those of my new protector. To the man, Who gave me birth my mind turns as toward some beloved figure of romance, but the memory of Purcell can still stir me to a passion of love and reverence, page 29as strong, surely, as can be raised in the breast of a human being. It may be that you, my dear reader, will become impatient with this man, that he may offend in his words and actions your lifelong and doubtless well-grounded opinions. Sometimes, as you may discover, I have differed from him, and, alas, at the end there rose between us a wall the most terrible and insurmountable that can exist between man and man; but never for an hour was my love for him or his for me diminished a degree by our differences. His faults were no less lovable than his virtues, and of this I am certain, that his mistakes—if they were such—sprang from the greatness and not the littleness of his soul.
But I am not yet out of the clutch of Te Waharoa.
1 Morepork = the native owl.
2 Kiwi = a wingless bird.
I have no recollection of the journey coming to an end, nor of what happened immediately thereafter, nor indeed for many and many a day. The small ship of my life had come into a quiet haven, where the ordered sequence of events made no impression on my mind. I ate and drank and slept and was greatly cared for; for in addition to being that rare thing a pakeha child, was I not also the Little Finger of Te Waharoa?
1 Whare-kura = the Maori college for the education of the sons of great chiefs.
The tohunga could look over the inner palisade of the pa, beside which the track lay. If at such times he happened to move, the biggest of us could pull back a sliding door at the foot of the fence and be away from his sight in the trench below. There were three fences beyond this, increasing in strength until we came to the pekerangi,1 built of great trees, sunk side by side, every sixth tree outtopping its fellows and carved at the summit with a hideous figure-head. Overlooking the river, as it flashed round the foot of the pa, was the waharoa, the great and elaborately carved gateway by which entrance to the fort-village was gained.
1 Pekerangi = the outer palisade of the pa.
There were other things to be seen from the pa: the river, breaking suddenly with its broad silver from the dense bush, sweeping in a great curve round the hill and disappearing as suddenly as it appeared; the cultivations on the rich alluvial flat below, kumara and corn and potato; and, through a gap in the hills, the wide green or yellow of springing or ripening wheat, the beginnings of that new order which was to cover the limestone soils of Waipa with the staple food of the white man. The rest was bush; billow on green billow, rolling almost to the foot of the pa, masking the hills and choking the valleys; such a riot of vegetable life as would daunt the stoutest heart in the attempt to penetrate it. Tracks there were, to be sure, ancient ways, still deflected from straightness by the ghosts of trees whose bodies had dispersed in dust ages ago. To step from their narrow limits was to begin a struggle, the end of which might well be exhaustion and death.
Such in appearance were the Matakiki pa and its surroundings. At the time of my arrival its inhabitants could scarce have numbered less than a thousand individuals. It was situated in the territory of the Ngatimaniapoto, with whom Te Waharoa had established a lasting alliance; and to this country, as a safe harbourage, after the sack of the Tekuma pa, he sent his "Thumb" and "Little Finger," commending their care to a lesser chief of that tribe until the conclusion of the little affairs on which he was then engaged should afford him leisure to claim them. This chief, then a man well advanced in years, had proved himself a sagacious leader, nursing his tribe to full member-page 33ship, and while not refusing the loan of a war-party for the prosecution of such of the schemes of his allies as promised a successful issue, yet refraining from ventures that might commit him to a life of continuous warfare. It was in keeping with this diplomatic policy that he should welcome to his kainga1 a white man of the stamp of Purcell.
While the pakeha had by force of circumstance become all but a necessity to the Maori, he was now dribbling into the country in sufficient numbers to allow of the exercise of a little care in his selection. No longer might the escaped convict or deserting whaler pass at once into a sort of enslaved kingship, to balance himself giddily between power and sudden death. The missionary, tramping alone and unarmed into the pas, accomplished at least the advantage of revealing to his savage but intelligent flock a standard by which their own pakehamaoris2 might be judged. And few there were that could satisfactorily survive the test. Equally destitute of fear and morals, to most of these the opening of the waharoa was as the unclosing of the gates of a Mohammedan paradise, for here were dark-eyed houris in abundance, to whom alliance with a white man lent a great, if meretricious, splendour.
But such a man as Purcell, bringing with him, as he did, a load of goods belonging to my father—for Te Waharoa had eventually consented to divide his spoils with the dead man's son—not to speak of his ability to procure more, was a treasure to be received anywhere in New Zealand with open arms, it is true that the hapu had possessed a pakeha of sorts several years previously, but of him we discovered little, and nothing to his advantage. As to his end, there was a conspiracy of reticence, and even his name had been distorted out of all recognition.
1 Kainga = the home.
2 Pakeha-maori = a European living as a Maori.
There were besides the chief a score or more of others, who claimed authority little below his own, and, absolute for life or death as was the power of Te Moanaroa, he seldom or never exercised it without the full consent of the council of chiefs. He was, as I remember him, a man of heavy build, short in stature, but of immense breadth of shoulder, never to be seen abroad without a war-spear in his hand. He spoke seldom. At the council of chiefs in the marae,1 have seen him sit for hours in complete silence, and yet, in some mysterious way, enforce his will upon the speakers. Not that I would claim for him any powers of telepathy. I think it was rather a natural sagacity and deep knowledge of human nature that enabled him to control the turbulent passions of his people. He was a believer in talk as a safety valve. He would wait patiently for hours while the verbal contest raged around him, and not till it had subsided into the calmness of exhaustion would he, in a few softly spoken words, disclose his inflexible will.
1 Marae = the village square.
2 Ariki = god-descended chief.
As I call to mind the terror of these men that possessed me in my childhood, a terror founded on sights and sounds actually seen and heard, and which now, as then, remain inexplicable, I marvel at the discredit into which their kind has fallen. Truly the modern representatives of tohungaism, half-contemptuously tolerated by the villagers and ignominiously hustled by the pakeha law, are but a poor lot of degenerates. Not with such men would Te Atua Mangu have deigned to cast the niu1 or thrust the wands of life and death into the holy ground.
The chief-paramount—of him I shall have much to say presently—was so by right of birth, the eldest son of the eldest son, and grave indeed was the objection that might shake him from his seat; but the tohunga was great by reason of his own greatness. A single act might lift him into a position of eminence; a fortunate augury or—if you prefer it—a lucky shot at the future might render him an object of veneration; and thus, during the first seven years of my life at the pa, there were several changes in the standing of the wizard doctors, now one, now another, but for widely different reasons, gaining the favour of the tribe.
1 Niu = divining rods.
Let me now briefly recall the uneventful manner of my life during those first seven years.
My protector, on his arrival, had been given a whare close to that of the chief, and on this spot, before the first winter set in, he had erected a building, framed of tea-tree and wattled with rushes, large enough to serve as a store and dwelling-house combined. Here was my home. The store faced the village square, half the front opening in a sliding door of hewn timber, which could be, and sometimes was, secured with a padlock. Fronting this door was an opening in the back wall, giving admission to the house. I remember it with four rooms, but at first there were but two, the kitchen and a small bedroom beyond. There were a means of exit from the kitchen and some apertures in both rooms, which, a few years later, were dignified by being fitted with glass. To the rear of this building was a long store on piles, sometimes full to repletion, at others an empty shell.
I think Purcell must have taken to himself a wife im-page 37mediately on arrival; at all events I can remember no time when Roma was not a member of the household. She was of one of the fair-skinned Urewera hapus, no darker than a South European, with small, regular features. I fancy that she had been enslaved since childhood, but of this I am not certain, the only confirmatory evidence being the absence of tattoo marks both on her lips and her calves, and the circumstance that she was certainly an alien.
My recollections of her are such a blend of the tender and the comical, that I hesitate to put them on record lest the latter element should predominate. All, or nearly all that a child can owe to its mother, I owe to her. She was, I should think, the humblest being of her sex that ever existed. Despite a beauty that was real by any standard, and a natural intelligence of a quite respectable order, she remained for ever at the feet of her husband. To her he was the most splendid and worshipful of created beings, and his lifelong efforts to lift her to a more exalted position ended in complete failure. No man could be more consistently kind to a woman than Purcell was to his wife, and it seems impossible that physical fear of him could ever have dwelt in her mind, yet beneath the devotion in her eyes I seemed always to see an expression which I do not know how to describe by any other name. She took nothing from his hand, though it were but the salt to season her food, without such humility of gratitude as no man would willingly demand from his hound.
I know that for years Purcell was restive and even unhappy by reason of this attitude of his wife's. Once, happening to return unexpectedly after leaving the house, I saw him holding her above his head and shaking her with rough tenderness in his great arms, the while a passion of protest poured from his lips, but I do not know that any particular amount of humility was shaken out of her by this unusual treatment, I think that he became at length page 38reconciled to the position. At all events, her self-effacement became a household jest, not less amusing for its mingling of pathos; and, though she appeared to share in our enjoyment, there is no doubt in my mind that the pathos and the humour were alike concealed from her.
But it was not only her husband who was thus exalted into a species of god; there came a time when I also developed into an object of veneration, when my caresses were received with trembling gratitude, and she was unable to approach me without evidences of internal trepidation. Nor was this the climax of her mental malady, for later her humility was to stand between her and her own daughter, and not even the demonstrative warmth of that tenderest of hearts could avail ought against it.
So at length I come to Puhi-Huia.
She was born within two years of our arrival at the village. As the happy young mother held up the babe for the inspection of its father—and on this occasion we may believe that pride and exultation ousted the humility from her eyes—a bunch of the feathers of the royal huia1 bird fell from its place on the wall and rested for a moment on the head of the child. Such an omen could not be disregarded." Puhi-Huia (Plume of the Huia)," said the mother. "Behold the name!" And whether it were because this was the first occasion on which his young wife had taken the initiative, or because he was himself indifferent, the name established itself.
1 See note, p 400.
The dangers into which in my innocence I led that child, the bruises and wounds I was the means of inflicting on her tender body, have sent many a shiver through me in subsequent years, and if I had not so often heard of the deceptions we practised to escape from supervision and of the wild outcry in the kainga that followed our prolonged disappearance, I could not avoid attaching some measure of blame to our guardians. The ooze of the river or the tangles of the forest should have secreted our small bones not once, but a score of times. Better perhaps for one of us if they had!
To these escapades, in the absence of any harm resulting from them, the village became in time inured, and as we increased in years and strength we were tacitly allowed the latitude to wander which we had in the first place wrested by sheer persistence from our unwilling guardians. My protector was a man whose nerves had no power to play tricks with his imagination. Danger had no existence for him until he was in the midst of it, and the fact that he recognised its presence even then was only to be gathered by an increase of cheerfulness in his manner. That he should neglect to watch over our every footstep, and should laugh at rather than reprove our exploits, was only in accordance with such a disposition.
But he could be adamant in other matters. A certain part of the day was set aside for lessons, and, nimble as were my wits, I never discovered a satisfactory way of page 40evading these. The methods I did try, however successful for the time being, were always unsatisfactory in the end; and I can still recall the figure of Puhi-Huia in her little chair, big tears, which could be drawn with difficulty from her on her own account, rolling down her cheeks, as she unwillingly witnessed the expiation of my offence.
But I should do myself an injustice if I led the reader to suppose that, in the end, I learnt unwillingly. Once I had been fitted with the power to read easily, I discovered that that same curiosity which led me to pass no new thing on the river or the track, called me with equal force into the realm of books. Fortunate, indeed, was I to have such a guide and instructor, for, though I can lay no claim to scholarship—possessing nothing approaching exhaustive knowledge on any one subject—yet I am free of so wide a domain, and can wander so far without hindrance or stumbling-blocks, that I have at least the delights, if not the profits, of learning. And this, equally with my life, I owe to Purcell.
I have often wondered what was the true extent of his knowledge. It certainly could not be so limitless as it appeared to me in my youth; yet, on the other hand, not to the last hour of his life could I be certain that in any subject I had plumbed it to the bottom. He taught me three modern languages, not to speak of Maori and English, and would, I doubt not, have taught me as many more, had not my appetite for this special branch of knowledge become surfeited with the third. But the thing that still at this day gives me the greatest surprise was his wide attainments in science. At that date, and even for fifty years thereafter, what was called education was limited to the facts of human history, so that a man might be ignorant as a savage of the whole cosmos, and yet, if he were fairly conversant with Greek and Latin, he was regarded as an educated man. On the other hand, whatever might be a page 41man's attainments in science, and however profound his acquaintance with natural laws, he could lay no claim to scholarship unless he could add to them a smattering of the classics. Even to this day the idea of the comparative unimportance of science lingers in certain quarters, and we find men of reputed education confessing and even boasting that they are puzzled by the phases of the moon!
To me the career of Purcell remains a romance as deeply clothed in mystery as that of the Man in the Iron Mask. Whence did he come, and why? What tragedy was it that cut one so brilliant off from his kind and thrust him into the arms of savagery? All his actions, from the moment I first knew him, were those of a man who had definitely determined his manner of life from that time forward; nor can I confidently say that I ever saw in his manner evidences of regret for the life he had left behind him. He had a warm heart for individuals, but I have sometimes thought that his attitude towards mankind was misanthropic and that an intellectual impatience with man's social systems might lie at the root of his choice of the simple, strenuous life.
1 Taepo – a supernatural being.
It was not very long after this that I first encountered Rangiora.